- MOON (Heb. usually יָרֵחַ, yare'aḥ; poetical form לְבָנָה, levanah; Isa. 24:23, 30:26; Song 6:10). A deity for ancient Israel's neighbors, the moon is for Israel "the lesser light" created on the fourth day of creation "to rule the night" (Gen. 1:16). The calendar used in ancient Israel was probably lunisolar. At any rate, the month was based on the periodical recurrence of the moon's phases. (For full details, see calendar .) The New Moon, Rosh Ḥodesh, the beginning of a new period, was proclaimed by the Sanhedrin and marked by the blowing of trumpets and special offerings (Num. 10:10, et al.), and was a minor holiday of which liturgical traces have remained (see new moon ). Two main festivals, Passover and Sukkot, begin at the full moon. -Cult As a male deity, the moon (Nanna) was worshiped by the Sumerians and by the Semites in general. Known as Sin among the eastern Semites, the moon god was called Eraḥ in the "west." Sin was the patron god of Ur and Haran, which were connected with the origins of the Patriarchs. The popularity of the moon cult is attested by the frequency of theophoric names with the divine element Sin or Eraḥ. The Israelites were warned against worshiping the moon, and convicted transgressors were punished by stoning (Deut. 4:19, 17:3–5). The moon cult was, nevertheless, introduced into Judah by King Manasseh (II Kings 21:3) but was subsequently abolished by King Josiah (II Kings 23:5). For fuller details see host of heaven . -In the Aggadah Rabbinic literature uses levanah, and not yare'ah for the moon. The moon and the sun were created on the 28th of Elul (PdRE 8), and were originally equal in size (both being referred to as "the two great lights" – Gen. 1:16), but jealousy between them caused dissensions, so that God decided to make one of them smaller. The moon was chosen to be degraded because it had unlawfully intruded into the sphere of the sun, and hence the difference between the sun, "the greater light." and the moon, "the lesser light," (ibid.). The unlawful intrusion is based on the phenomenon that the moon is sometimes visible during the day (PdRE 6; Gen. R. 6:3). The remarkable statement is made that the he-goat offered on the New Moon is a sin-offering brought by God; according to the Midrash this was for having permitted the moon to encroach upon the domain of the sun (Gen. R. 6:3), but the Talmud says it was for diminishing its size (Ḥul. 60b). God also appeased the moon by surrounding it with stars like a viceroy encircled by his assistants (Gen. R. 6:4). God's original intention was that the sun alone should furnish light to the earth, but foreseeing the future idolatrous worship of the heavenly objects, He decided that it would be better to have two large celestial bodies, thus minimizing the danger of one becoming a central deity (Gen. R. 6:l). For this reason the sun and moon stand in judgment daily before the Almighty, ashamed to go forth, and pleading, "People worship us and anger the Holy One, blessed be He\!" (Mid. Ps. 19:11). The moon was designated as Jacob's luminary, while the sun symbolized Esau. The Jewish nation bases its calendar on the lunar year, since they have a portion in this world and the world to come, like the moon which can be seen both by day and by night (Gen. R. 6:3). An eclipse of the moon is therefore considered an evil omen for Israel, and is attributed to four different sins: forgery, false testimony breeding small cattle in Ereẓ Israel (since they damage the crops of the field), and cutting down fruit trees (Suk. 29a). The rabbis declared that the countenance of Moses was like that of the sun, while that of Joshua was like that of the moon (BB 75a). Esther, who brought light to Israel after the evil decree of Ahasuerus, is likewise compared to the moon, which enables people to rejoice and walk about when it illuminates the darkness of the night (Ex. R. 15:6). In the future, seven companies of righteous men whose faces will shine like the sun and the moon will welcome the presence of God (Lev. R. 30:2). Moses did not comprehend exactly when the New Moon was to be sanctified until God showed him the form of the moon when it was beginning its monthly cycle and said to him. "When you see it like this, sanctify it" (Mekh. Pisḥa 1). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ginzberg, Legends, index S.V. Moon.
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.
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